India wary of Chinese presence in Lanka

Krishna to air New Delhis views during Colombo trip on Thursday

 Though Krishna’s visit to Sri Lanka coincides with the birth-anniversary (November 26) of the slain Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief V Prabhakaran, New Delhi seems keen to take its ties with Colombo out of the shadow of the conflict that the tiny country on the Indian Ocean witnessed for over 25 years.

“Our defence and security dialogue with Sri Lanka, now that the conflict within the country is behind us, requires special focus,” said Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. The new Indian Consulate in Jaffna is intended to strengthen the cultural links between the northern province of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu and is expected to make it easier for people in the peninsula to obtain visa to travel to India. Tamil-dominated Jaffna has once been a stronghold of the LTTE.

However, India’s new consulate in Hambantota in Sinhalese-dominated south not only indicates New Delhi’s desire to maintain the much-needed balance while boosting its ties with Colombo, but also signals that it has woken up to the growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. Hambantota, a town on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka, has been turned into a major port, which President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally opened on his birthday last Thursday. Colombo had an agreement with Beijing for Chinese companies’ involvement in developing facilities in the port, which has now been named after Rajapaksa.

The Hambantota Port, like Gwadar in Pakistan and Sittwe in Myanmar, is perceived as a part of the “string of pearls” – the strategic assets that China had been developing in the Indian Ocean region. It has since long been a cause of serious concern for India. China’s aid to Sri Lanka since 2006 too crossed  $ 3000 million, prompting India to announce a slew of sops for the island nation when Rajapaksa visited New Delhi last June.

The External Affairs Minister and his Sri Lankan counterpart G L Peiris will preside over the meeting of the Joint Commission in Colombo. Krishna will review the projects funded and carried out by India for rehabilitation of the Tamil civilians displaced by the Sri Lankan Army’s conflict with the LTTE. India has committed $ 1.5 billion for rehabilitation projects in Sri Lanka.

“The challenge is to convert the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka into a durable peace where there would be genuine reconciliation between all the communities in Sri Lanka inclusive of the Tamil-speaking minority,” said Rao, indicating that Krishna would once again ask the island nation to speed up the process of devolution of power in accordance with the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution.

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